In this week’s Parsha, we find a series of numbers. G-d commanded Moshe to count the Jewish people. The Torah lists for us the total number of males aged 20-60 for each tribe ranging from 32,400 for the Tribe of Menashe to 74,600 in the Tribe of Yehuda. Then, the Torah tells us the sum total of all 12 tribes.
Immediately after counting each tribe, the Torah lists the groups of tribes as they camped – by direction. The Torah once again writes for us the totals of each tribe, the totals of each group in a direction and the sum of the entire Jewish people.
This procedure raises a couple of questions: Firstly, why did the Torah have to add the sum of all the tribes? In his grocery store on the south side, my grandfather ע"ה would write the price of the groceries on the grocery bags and add them in his head. He did not use an adding machine or the cash register to get him the total. He worked it out on his own! Why should we not do the same here? To properly understand Torah requires thinking and work. Let’s figure out the totals ourselves. We can count the numbers of the tribes with some basic addition! The second question is why did the Torah have to write it all a second time – especially so close to the first time?
Perhaps the Torah is teaching us the importance of the individual and the importance of the group. Every person counts. Every person makes a difference. Throughout the Tanach, we are taught the significance of individuals and their contributions to the world. We read about Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov, Moshe, Shmuel, King David, etc. It is so much about individuals because the world is made up of individual people and each person can contribute to society.
On the other hand, the Torah is also teaching us the significance of a group. The group of Jews of 603,550 is stronger and more influential than individual Jews or even the individual tribes. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. There is a verse in Mishle – the Book of Proverbs, written by King Solomon – “The splendor of a king is in the multitudes of people.” A large crowd makes a stronger impression, can accomplish more and shows G-d that we are one people.
Based upon that verse, the Rabbis teach us that it is better to have one minyan of 100 people than two minyanim of 50 people each. Unfortunately, there are people who prefer to have 11 minyanim of nine each so nobody will have a minyan.
Individuals are significant, and groups are significant. By listing both, perhaps the Torah is teaching us that we must operate with both to be successful. Sometimes, it is important to operate on an individual basis – the independent person can experience much success. At other times, the power of the group outweighs anything an individual might be able to accomplish. Any way that you add it up, it is SUM thing to think about.